Disclaimers ~ These characters belong to me. If they have a passing resemblance to you or share your name, it's purely coincidental.

Bad language ~ No.

Love/sex ~ Romance between conseting women. If this offends you, you're in the wrong place. Go back now and forget you were ever here!

Author's note ~ Questions, comments & thoughts all welcome. Loves_to_write_fic@yahoo.co.uk

Copyright © 2008

Chapter Twelve

A candle died out without news about Rayna. Arcadia grew more upset by the mark, as she started to wonder if something had already happened to the warrior, and she had lost her love before she could apologise and take back her harsh words.

Athena started thinking along the same lines, worried about how her daughter would cope if anything had happened. She looked to her wife for reassurance, her worry etched on her face.

"Cheer up, girls," Dionis told them. "I'm sure everything is fine. These warriors are trained to hide themselves. Rayna is the best, isn't she, Arcadia?"

"Yes," the blonde replied quietly.

"There you go then. She is so well hidden that they can't find her." Dionis stood as banging was heard from the front of the Palace. Picking up her nearby sword, the dark-haired woman looked at her family. "Stay here. No matter what, do not come out." She left the secure room, hearing Mina barricading the door behind her, and made her way to the front door. "Yes?" she asked at the barricaded front doors.

"It's Rayna Banks, Your Highness. You asked for me?" Rayna said in confusion, not sure why she had been pulled from her duty.

Dionis smiled in relief and opened the door for the younger woman. "My daughter wished to see you, warrior. Who am I to refuse my little girl."

Wondering if the Princess was hurt, Rayna followed the ex-warrior to the secure room, waiting nervously as Mina opened the door. The younger warrior walked in behind Dionis and bowed to the seated Queen. "Your majesty," she greeted.

Hearing Rayna's voice, Arcadia looked her way and jumped from the chair, running across to her. Flinging herself into the taller girls arms, the blonde started sobbing again. "Oh! By the Gods!" She kissed the warrior heatedly, not caring that her family were watching on. "Are you all right? You're not hurt, are you? I was so worried!"

Silently surprised, Rayna looked over Arcadia to the Queen and her consort, then back down at the small, trembling blonde in her arms. "I'm fine, Princess. Are you okay?" she asked, a little worried about Arcadia's red rimmed eyes.

Arcadia pulled the dark-haired warriors head down and kissed her passionately again, reassuring herself Rayna was really there. Finally, breaking reluctantly apart, the blonde smiled. "I thought I was going to lose you!"

Rayna frowned. "So...you do care?"

The Princess nodded, looking ashamed. "I don't know what got into me earlier, Rayna. I'm sorry."

The warrior smiled and ducked her head down to place a soft kiss on pink lips. "I really do love you, you know?" she whispered.

"I know. And I love you too."

Standing up to her full height, Rayna looked over at Dionis, now seated next to her wife. "Why exactly was I called here, Your Highness? Is something wrong?"

Athena laughed as she stood from the sofa. She walked over to the young couple and moved her daughter aside, before hugging the confused warrior. "My daughter was distraught because you two have apparently argued. She feared something may happen to you before she got the chance to apologise and make up," the blonde explained. "So, my darling wife had you appointed to look after us here in the Palace."

Rayna nodded slowly, getting over her shock of the Queen hugging her. "I see. All right then."

"You're not disappointed, are you?" Dionis asked, looking closely at the young warrior.

"Disappointed, Your Highness?"

"About being in here, instead of out there involved in the hunt?"

Rayna shook her head. "I did some damage earlier, Your Highness. It is my pleasure to serve the Royal family however they see fit, and being in your company is a great honour."

Dionis smiled. Smooth, young one. I can see why my daughter loves you, and why my wife likes and approves of you.

* * * * *

Athena reclined back against Dionis' chest, her hands covering the larger ones resting on her stomach. Again, she looked over at her sleeping daughter and smiled.

Rayna was stretched out on the sofa opposite the Queen, lying on her back. Arcadia was lying half on top of the warrior, with Rayna's arms around her prone form, holding her securely.

"I hope Rayna will love and care for Arcadia, as much as Arcadia will her," Athena said quietly, not wanting to disturb her parents or the two teens.

"She better!" Dionis growled. "Or she'll have not only you to deal with, but me as well!"

The Queen smiled and stroked her wife's forearms lovingly. "You're always so protective of us. You're such a loving partner. A Protector of the island. Friend, lover, and wife. All I could ever wish for."

Dionis kissed her wife's blonde head. "Ditto, my love."

They fell silent, both watching their little girl and her partner sleep. After many years together, the Royal couple still loved each other as much as they had when they first met. Much like Arcadia and Rayna, they had met when they were young, and once they reached courting age, had married and hadn't looked back.

After Dionis returned from her year away, the couple had started trying for a child, and after two blissful years of marriage, Athena had gifted them with a daughter. The pregnancy though, had been difficult and Athena's life was put in danger. Dionis had begged her young wife not to risk having any more children, stating that the blessing of their love and their newborn child was enough.

They had now been married eighteen years, and still their love for each other could be seen whenever they looked each other's way, in their touches, and their soft kisses. Many women on the island envied their love, for it was rare.

"This attack on us..." Athena started.

"Will mean us going to war, my love."

The Queen looked across at the young sleeping couple. "Can we assign Rayna to Arcadia? As a personal guard perhaps?"

Dionis smiled and ducked her head down to kiss the top of her wife's head. "Rayna has trained all her life for this, sweetheart. She was about to go away for a year as it is. Now they will be getting first hand war experience."

"But they are so young!" the blonde protested.

"We will be sending the older, more experienced warriors too. They will help the young ones as much as they can."

"I know."

"You just don't want our little girl unhappy," Dionis noted.

Athena looked up into the eyes she loved. "Is that so wrong?"

"No, my love. I don't want her unhappy either. Look at what I did earlier - that went against every protocol and yet I did it."

Athena sighed. "Do you miss the warrior life, my love?"

"I never saw battle," Dionis stated. "In one way I am glad, for battle changes you for life. The horrors of what happens, the lives you take, it all haunts you forever. But, on the other hand, I would have liked to test my abilities against others in fierce conditions."

"It may be selfish, but I am glad you gave it all up."

Dionis smiled and kissed her wife's head again.

A pounding on the thick wooden door of the secure room woke everyone from their slumber. Knowing only the most trusted guards at the Palace knew of the secret passage that would allow entrance when the Palace was locked down, Dionis extracted herself from beneath her wife and walked over to her desk for her sword, just in case.

"Your Highness, this is Karita Shepherd," a muffled voice said through the door.

"Karita? Is everything all right?" Dionis asked cautiously.

"Yes, Your Highness. The hunt is over. May I have a word?"

"Of course, hold on." Knowing the guard wasn't being held against her wishes and all was well, Dionis dropped her sword and headed for the barricaded door. Seeing Rayna making to move out from beneath Arcadia. "As you were, Warrior. All is well." She lifted the wooden beam from the door and stepped out into the grand hallway.

"Is everyone okay, Your Highness?" Karita asked.

"Yes, my friend. We're fine, thank you."

The guard nodded. "I just wanted to let you know our search led us to find one of the enemy. He was waiting by the shore, guarding a small boat. We think they rowed across from a bigger ship that has now disappeared from view, perhaps relocated to another spot, we don't know."

"Has he spoken yet?" Dionis asked, wondering if her wife would let her leave to question the man.

"Not yet. I thought I would wait until the morn. He picked up an injury trying to escape, and I thought I would make him wait awhile."

Dionis laughed. "As you wish, Karita. I will be there just before dawn."

"Understood, Your Highness. I am outside if you need anything."

"No, Karita, find someone else. You should go home to your family."

Karita nodded her head in acceptance.

"One other thing. Have someone alert Rayna Banks' parents that she is here and well, looking after my family for the night."

The spiky-haired guard nodded again.

"And Keera? Is she unhurt?" Dionis enquired.

Karita smiled proudly. "She got through this test very well. I have had good reports."

Dionis smiled and patted her old friend on the shoulder. "Good. Make sure she goes home to her young wife. It is their wedding night after all. Goodnight, Karita."

"Goodnight, Your Highness."

Back in the secure room, Dionis barricaded the door again, just in case, then returned to the sofa where her wife sat, sliding in behind the blonde to hold her in her arms again.

"What's going on?" Athena asked quietly.

"We have a prisoner it seems."

The Queen sat up and looked into her wife's eyes. "Has she questioned him?"

"No, Karita's waiting until the morn."

Athena settled back against Dionis' chest. "She is waiting for you," she stated. "Why aren't you doing it tonight?"

"I didn't want to leave you and Arcadia. And the man picked up an injury. Karita thinks it is a good idea to let him suffer a little first."

"Is the search over?" Rayna asked groggily.

Dionis smiled, the young warrior sounding so childlike. "Yes, Rayna. You can sleep now."

"Everyone is all right?" the warrior asked, her friends on her mind.

"Our warriors are fine. It seems they are teaching you young ones well these days."

Satisfied, Rayna shifted slightly beneath Arcadia to get comfortable and tightened her hold around the sleeping Princess, sighing as she allowed herself to completely relax for the first time that evening.

* * * * *

Dionis woke a few hours later, before dawn the next morning, not wanting to, but having to get up. Extracting herself from Athena's hold, she stood up and stretched, groaning as everything snapped back into place.

Walking across to her desk, she sat down in her chair so she could write out a list of what needed doing. Preparations for a war would take a while. Not only did there need to be plans drawn up, but supplies would need to be gathered as well.

Athena sat up, looking around in confusion. Remembering the events of the previous night, she stood and stretched, unknowingly mirroring her wife's earlier movements. She walked over to Dionis' side. "There is so much to do," she said quietly, not wanting to disturb the other women in the room.

Dionis looked up at the blonde and smiled lovingly. "Good morning, my love."

Athena smiled and ducked her head to kiss waiting lips. "Good morning."

"There is a lot to do, yes. I have started writing up a list."

"I would like to come with you when you question the prisoner," Athena said, rubbing her eyes.



"No, Athena. That's my final decision." Blue eyes looked up into annoyed green. "My love, there are other things that you need to be doing."

The Queen felt her annoyance melt away. "Like arranging a meeting with the senate?"

Dionis nodded. "This attack means war. That is my decision."

"Our decision, sweetheart," Athena interrupted.

"Our decision," Dionis repeated, kissing her wife's hand. "But we do need to listen to what the senate thinks, and we need to discuss safety plans. What I discovered last night as I went seeking Rayna was shocking!"

Athena looked over at where her daughter lay with her love. "Are you sure we should be launching an attack, Dionis?"

Blue eyes hardened. "Yes, my love. I'm sure. If we don't, they will return. Maybe not in our reign, but Arcadia's or her daughter's. I don't want our daughter having to deal with something like this. We have to show those out there that we won't sit back and allow this to happen."

Athena stepped behind her wife's chair, sliding her arms around tense shoulders. She rested her chin on top of a dark head. "Will it ever be over?" she asked quietly.

"I don't know, love. Doubtful if the stories and lies keep getting spread to each new generation. Sadly, it is all about power and wealth."

The Queen sighed. "I have read Ailis' diaries. I can't believe what an evil old man her father was. Why couldn't he just accept their love for each other?"

"Some people just won't accept anything they deem as wrong. There will always be people who think our love is wrong, or sick. That we just need a man or a woman to show us the right way. We can't do anything about them, we just have to stick together and do what is right for us." Dionis tilted her dark head back and looked up at her wife. "No one on this earth can tell me that loving you is wrong, Athena."

The blonde smiled and bent to kiss soft lips. "Thank you, love. You know I feel exactly the same way." Sighing, the Queen looked over at the still slumbering Princess. "I should take Arcadia with me today," she told her wife. "To the senate meeting. She needs to learn this side of her duties. Of course, it would have been all in theory, but now, with the attack, she will get to see it first hand."

"Mmm. Perhaps I should take Rayna with me?" Dionis pondered thoughtfully.

Athena smiled down at her wife. "Yes, I think one day Rayna will be a part of our family. You may as well teach her your side of business now and save yourself time, hmm?"

"First things first, I will order breakfast. I'm sure the cook won't mind knocking us something up," Dionis said with a kiss. "What do you feel like, my love?"

"What I want, I can't have right now," Athena replied saucily. "How about we wake everyone else and see what they would like."

* * * * *

Over breakfast, Athena and Dionis explained to Aaronia, Mina and the two teens what was going to be happening that day.

"So you two are going to be busy all day?" Arcadia asked frowning.

"So will you be," Athena replied, smiling at her daughter. "You are coming with me."


"And Rayna, you will be with me," Dionis said.

Everyone looked at Dionis in surprise.

"Sorry?" Rayna asked in confusion. That can't be right, I'm only a trainee.

"We're going to question the prisoner, we need information."

Arcadia took Rayna's hand beneath the table. "So...we're both going to be taking part in Royal duties?"

The Queen looked at her wife and smiled, then gave her attention to the two girls. "I have noticed the way you two look at each other. I'm sure others have as well. Anyone can see how deeply you care for each other. I don't want to be presumptuous, but I think I know where your relationship is heading."

Arcadia smiled giddily at both her mothers, hoping that the Queen was right.

* * * * *

Rayna followed Dionis towards the back of the Palace.

As the years had passed by, the original structure had been added to, making the Palace a sprawling complex of rooms and passages. Each had been decorated to provide comfort to not only the Royal family but to visitors as well.

The young warrior glanced around at her surroundings as she kept pace with the Queen's wife. The walls were decorated with beautiful art in the entrance hall, changing to family portraits nearer the back. Placed in small nooks were beautifully carved tables holding marble statues and other pieces dating back to the reign of Ailis and Callena.

"The prisoner is down in the dungeon," Dionis told the teen. "Callena had many small cramped holding cells built because she knew her father-in-law wouldn't leave her and Ailis to their lives."

"What happens if he won't talk?" Rayna asked.

Dionis looked at the teen, her blue eyes hard. "We make him."

They walked carefully down concrete steps in near-darkness, Dionis explaining that the dungeons were kept like that so that in a bright interrogation room, the prisoner became disorientated.

She led Rayna up stone steps and around a bend to a closed door. It opened into a small room, both women stopping in front of a small, vented gap. "Hidden passage," Dionis said smiling proudly. "We had a specialist come to the Palace to install it," she explained. "It cost a small fortune, especially considering we hardly ever have anyone to interrogate. But you see now why it is handy."

Inside the brightly lit room they looked down on sat the prisoner, looking warily at Karita, who was pacing back and forth, occasionally slamming her hands down on the small table the man was sitting behind. Dionis held a finger up to her lips, asking for silence, and flicked a small lever. The two women were then able to listen to what was being said.

"Okay," Karita said, folding her arms. "If you tell me who sent you, I will have a healer tend to your wound."

The man remained stubbornly silent.

"If you tell me where I can find your people, I will get you something to eat." The guard turned and headed for the door. "I'll let you think on it," she told him, opening the door and leaving. Dionis flicked the lever again, knowing Karita was on her way to join them and making sure they wouldn't be heard.

Karita shortly joined Dionis and Rayna in the hidden passage. "Hello, Rayna," she greeted in surprise, eyes flicking to Dionis in confusion.

The Queen's consort placed a big hand on the young warrior's shoulder. "Would you give us a minute, Rayna?"

"Of course."

Once Rayna had left, Dionis smiled at her friend grimly. "Athena thinks she is destined to marry Arcadia, so because she's going to be a part of the family some day, she will eventually be taking over my duties."

"I understand," Karita nodded. "Why do they have to grow up? It's not fair!"

"I know! I can still remember Cadie's first steps!"

"The first time she called you mama," the guard added wistfully.

"Rocking her to sleep at night."

Karita laughed, shaking her head. "What do you think of the Princess marrying Rayna?"

"I think my wife is never wrong."

The two friends laughed.

Dionis got back to the matter at hand. "You started without me."

"Yes, sorry," Karita apologised. "He was a pain all night apparently. Kept whining about everything."

"Do you think he'll crack?"

"I'm not sure. His injury is causing him a lot of pain, so he might as the day wears on. Then, of course, there is the worry of infection if he doesn't get it seen to. But," Karita shrugged, "who knows."

"Do you think getting physical will help?" Dionis asked, giving her friend a feral smile.

Karita laughed. "If that is what it comes to, you will be the first to know."

Dionis nodded. "You better get back in there and find out his answer to your questions. I have a feeling I already know his response, but maybe he'll surprise us."

The guard walked over to the closed door. "Shall I send Rayna back in?"


Getting a nod from Karita, Rayna walked back into the room and took her place next to Dionis, ready to watch what would happen.

* * * * *

Athena sat next to her mother at the head of a large beautifully carved cherrywood table, smiling and greeting the members of the senate as they arrived.

Leaning in close to her mother, Arcadia whispered low enough so only the Queen could hear, "If mama says we are going to war no matter what, why are we holding a meeting?"

"Because whilst it is our decision in the end, we have to know who is with us."

"Oh." The Princess frowned. "What if they are all against us going to war?"

"Then we will know they are not to be trusted, and who to keep our eyes on." Athena looked at her daughter seriously. "Not everyone is happy to see us have control, Arcadia. They weren't back in Ailis' and Callena's rule. There are some who aren't now."

"Your majesty," Savannah Reeder greeted, as she approached.

Athena smiled warmly. "Hello, Savannah. How are the family?"

The brunette smiled, her grey-green eyes lighting up. "Growing up too fast!"

The Queen laughed. "They have a nasty habit of doing that!"

"Yes." Grey-green eyes turned to the Princess. "Hello, Princess Arcadia. It's good to see you here. Well, not under these circumstances, but doing your bit."

Arcadia smiled. "Thank you."

"I came over to ask if your family are all right after the attack last night?" the brunette asked.

"We're all fine, thank you, Savannah."

"This means war, doesn't it, your majesty?" the head of education asked quietly.

The Queen nodded. "I'm afraid so."

"You have my full support, whatever your decision."

"Thank you, Savannah. It is nice to know I have at least one friend here." The two blonde Royals watched the head of education retreat over to her own seat.

"That was nice of her," Arcadia commented.

Athena smiled at her daughter. "We always have the support of the Reeder's. Val and Hazel Reeder were good friends to Ailis and Callena. Nothing has changed over the generations."

Tamara Sheehan walked into the large brightly lit room, an air of self-importance about her. Her liquid brown eyes widened as she spotted Arcadia seated next to the Queen. The woman was almost as obnoxious as her daughter, and arrogant, deeming herself just as important as the Queen.

She rushed over to the Queen's side. "Your majesty!" she exclaimed. "Why is the Princess here? Sitting in my seat?"

"Tamara, my daughter will one day take over from me. I thought I would bring her along to see the goings on at one of these meetings."

"Yes, but..."

"You can sit elsewhere today, Tamara," Athena said, with finality. "In fact, I think my daughter will be joining me more often, so perhaps you should find a permanent seat."

The Queen's adviser scowled, but walked away obediently.

Athena stood up, the room instantly falling silent as she did, all women turning to give their attention to their Queen. "Right, we have a lot to get through, let's get started."

* * * * *

Karita shook her head in frustration. "I'm not sure what to do, Dionis," she admitted. The prisoner hadn't caved in to her terms and now they were stuck. "We could throw him back in a cell and see if he gives in when hunger and pain get too much, or we could..." she shot a look at Rayna, before looking back at Dionis. "Get physical." She sighed in frustration.

"I have watched you try everything that's worked in the past. I don't blame you for him not talking, Karita," Dionis said, strangely calm.

"Do you mind if I go in?" Rayna asked, blue eyes locked on the man seated in the room below their elevated position.

The two older women looked at her in surprise.

"You think you can crack him?" Karita asked, an eyebrow raised in amusement.

"Maybe. I know you have far more experience in this area than I do, but it wouldn't hurt to let me have a go, would it?"

Karita looked at Dionis for her opinion.

The dark-haired woman looked at the young warrior in curiosity. She has some sort of plan. She wouldn't have spoken up if she didn't. "Okay then," she agreed, eager to see what the warrior would do.

Rayna smiled triumphantly. "Great. Could you have a snack made, something like a plate of cheeses, fruits, and dry bread rolls?"

Dionis nodded, a small frown on her brow.

"And have it brought down here?"

"Uhh...yes, but we're breaking for lunch soon, Rayna. Can't you wait?"

"I have a plan."

"We're not feeding him until he gives us some information," Karita said defiantly.

Rayna nodded. "I know. If you could keep the food in here, I'll come and get it when I am ready."

Not understanding, Dionis nodded in agreement anyway, and watched the teen leave the room. "What is she up to?" she asked Karita.

Rayna walked confidently into the interrogation room and sat down opposite the prisoner, staring at him without saying a word.

The blonde-haired man looked at her in curiosity, brown eyes flicking about left and right nervously when she didn't utter a word. Why isn't she speaking? he wondered after a candle mark or two ticked by in silence. I don't need her to talk, he smirked. I can still show her a good time. He cleared his dry throat and licked dry lips. "I'm not going to crack you know," he said defiantly.

Her blue eyes trained on the man, Rayna didn't reply.

"Did they think I would start talking if they sent in someone younger? A woman nearer my age? A good looking woman, whom I might try and charm?" He snorted. "It won't work."

He's talking a lot, just not about the right things.

A few more candle marks passed by in silence, Rayna staring at the young man opposite, taking a guess that he was around twenty Summers in age, no more than twenty-five.

He fidgeted nervously as the woman continued to just stare. "I have been trained for this sort of thing," he told her, breaking the unbearable silence again. "You won't crack me."

They sat for a whole hour, Rayna in silence, the prisoner trying to convince her he wasn't going to say anything. He stood and started to pace, Rayna's cold blue eyes following his every step.

Deep brown eyes flicked over to her now and then, as if to check she was still staring at him. Aroused, he made to move towards her, squeaking in fright when she stood to her full height and growled at him.

Licking dry lips, he walked back over to his chair and sat down, staring at her. "Were you sent in just to watch me?" he asked, after trying to outstare her didn't work.

Still Rayna didn't reply.

"If you were sent in to question me, you're not doing a very good job."

The warrior stood, smiling coldly as the young man's eyes widened in fear. Walking over to the door, she left without looking back.

Rayna walked slowly up the stone steps to the elevated room, smiling at the two older women who stood waiting.

Dionis and Karita stared at her in confusion.

"Is this your plan?" Karita asked. "Just stare at him all day!"

"He has spoken more to me than he did to you," Rayna replied calmly.

"But he has said nothing of importance!"

"I know. I'm hoping to change that."

"Calm down, Karita," Dionis placated. "Rayna has a plan." The dark-haired woman looked at the teen. "You do have a plan, don't you?"

Rayna gave the women a charming smile. "You just need a little patience." She picked up a small platter containing cheese and fruit and left again.

* * * * *

"Your majesty, whose idea is it to go to war?" Endora Fisher called out. The raven-haired woman was an ancestor of Marta Fisher, and the Queen's sister-in-law, as she had married Athena's youngest sister, Rosana. "Dionis?"

"Of course it was Dionis' idea to go to war," Ulrica Parson, the head of the islands church said. "She is a former warrior. Of course she would opt for war."

"That's not fair," Savannah spoke up. "Just because Dionis is an ex-warrior doesn't mean she's not thinking about the women of Belleza. Surely this is to ensure our safety." The brunette looked to the Queen as did the other women.

Athena stood up, the arguing women instantly falling quiet. "The island's security and safety is Dionis' job. All day and many long nights she works on ways to keep us safe, researching new security measures to bring in so we can continue living this wonderful life with which we have been gifted." The blonde looked along the table at each and every woman, making eye contact with them. "She doesn't want to go to war. Do you really think she wants to send our youngest warriors off to what, for some, will be their early deaths? Even our older, more experienced warriors won't all come home."

No one spoke, heads dropping at the Queen's truthful words.

"This is our only option," Athena continued. "If we don't retaliate, they will come back. If not them, then others. More men and women, stronger, more determined, all thinking we are weak and incapable of defending ourselves. Are you willing to wait for that to happen?" The Queen sat back down.

"So the decision is already made?" Ulrica asked. "Why call us together if you have sided with your wife already?"

"My place will always be by my wife's side," the Queen stated firmly. "As the island's security chief, Dionis knows what's best, and I will take her word on whatever she suggests. I called this meeting because I wanted to see who was with us," Athena told them. "I am a little disappointed in some of you, but for the most part, it is as I expected." She sighed. "We have a problem ladies, whether you want to admit it or not. Last night there was a major breakdown in our island's security. These...people got inland and close to us. Going to war to show them we won't take this sort of intrusion is the only way of protecting our privacy and that of our future generations."

"No one was hurt last night, were they?" Endora asked. "I heard we took no injuries?"

Athena shook her head. "We got lucky no one was hurt. But next time...who knows." The Queen fell quiet again to let her words sink in. "While we are all together, is there anything else any of you wish to bring to my attention?"

Ulrica raised her hands. "Might I suggest dropping the tradition of putting up a notice on our church door about approaching weddings? With the warriors going off to...fight, I presume there will be a rush of couples wanting to be wed."

"Good point, Ulrica," the Queen nodded, knowing traditionally a notice needed to be up for a full week after the wedding was announced. "The tradition will be dropped only up until the warriors leave, but then will be put back in place."

"Shouldn't we hold off all other weddings?" Daralis Green, head of the island's construction, said. "Let only those going off get married."

Athena looked to Ulrica.

"It might be an idea, keep tradition in place, exception only to those who have to hurry."

Savannah frowned. "Should we be encouraging them to rush into marriage just because one of them is going off to war?"

Athena sighed. "Okay, here is what we will do." She paused in thought. "All those already set to marry can do so. But," she looked at Ulrica. "You will try very hard to fit in any warriors wanting to wed, telling them they can do so as soon as you can see them. There is a catch. Only couples who have been courting for longer than...a moon, perhaps two, can marry."

"Understood, your majesty."

Endora put up her hand.

"Yes, Endora?" Athena asked.

"I wanted to let you all know that the farmers have had a great year for corn. If any of you would like some, drop by and help with the gathering, and we will be happy to supply you with some as payment."

"That is very kind, Endora. Be sure to thank the farmers for their generosity," the Queen smiled.

The raven-haired woman smiled. "It is a sneaky way of getting free labour, but I will pass on your message, your majesty."

"Is that everything?" Athena questioned, looking around the table. "Right then, those of you with daughters who have trained to be warriors, go home and enjoy the time you have with them. Those of you with daughters married to or dating a warrior..." Athena shook her head and glanced at her own daughter. "Be there for them in this difficult time. This won't be easy, not on any of us." She stood and watched as the senate members stood and bowed in her direction, then filed out of the room.

"Is it always like that?" Athena asked quietly.

Athena smiled down at the still seated Princess. "Not always. Sometimes things go like an old wives meeting, chatting over cakes and warm bread!"

"Do you think mama and Rayna are finished with the prisoner?" Arcadia asked, as she vacated her very comfortable seat, desperate to see her warrior and be held in strong arms.

"I don't know, love. Why don't we go and find out."

Chapter Thirteen

The man watched as Rayna finished a large slice of soft cheese and hummed in delight. He cringed as his stomach rumbled again.

Letting out a satisfied sigh, Rayna wiped her mouth on a napkin, then looked at the man to continue her staring.

"What is your name?" the man asked, sick of the silence.

"What's yours?" the warrior countered.

His brown eyes widened in surprise at the soft tones of her voice. "Uhh...Wendell."

Rayna picked up the platter of cheeses and fruits and stood, walking over to the door and leaving without another word.

Wendell frowned in confusion in the direction she had disappeared.

In the elevated room, Rayna put down the platter she held and picked up the plate with the dry bread roll, and left without saying a word to Dionis and Karita, who looked slightly stunned.

Returning to the interrogation room, Rayna set the plate down on the table in front of her and sat back. "Why did you come here?" she asked.

"I tell you my name and you suddenly think I am going to open up to you!" Wendell scoffed, his eyes on the bread.

Rayna pulled out a beautifully decorated knife she always carried hidden, on the off chance she ever lost her sword in battle.

Wendell's brown eyes opened comically wide, eyeing the young woman carefully. Would she cut me? They need me, they want information. Unless...unless they have someone else?

Rayna cut a slice off of the bread roll. "You get this if you tell me why you are here."

The blonde licked his dry lips. "How do I know you haven't poisoned it?"

The young warrior shrugged and proceeded to eat the slice, sitting back once she finished and watching Wendell.

"All right, so it's not poisoned," he muttered. What does it matter if I tell her? "We were promised riches and young virgins to marry." He waited patiently for a slice of the bread, frowning as Rayna didn't move. "Don't I get I my slice of bread?"

"You didn't want it. You thought it was poisoned, so I had it," Rayna said, holding back a laugh at the scowl thrown her way. "You believed whoever told you that?" she asked.

Wendell frowned. "What?"

"You believed the man who told you there were riches and young women here on the island?"

"Why should I tell you anything?" the man said, bitter about being tricked.

"Because now you have learned the bread isn't poisoned, and if you don't answer my questions you will go hungry." Rayna shrugged. "I don't care either way."

Wendell sighed. "Yes, I believed him."

"Why? There is no proof this island even exists. He must have shown you evidence of it being true, otherwise so many wouldn't have agreed to come."

"He had been here before."

Startled by this information, Rayna didn't show it. She handed the man a slice of bread, watching as he wolfed it down. "He could have lied," she dismissed.

"He introduced us to an descendent of one of the first women to come here."

Holding her emotions in, Rayna cut Wendell another slice of bread. "So you came looking for a bride?" she asked, handing the bread over.

"I came looking for the Princess," he said, as he happily bit into his bread.

"Why?" the warrior growled.

"There is a big bounty on any Royal's head, but the Princess...she is special," he grinned. "Just think, if she was to have my heir, all this would be mine!"

Karita slammed into the room suddenly. "Outside," she directed at Rayna. "Now," she added, when the young warrior didn't move.

With her jaw clenched painfully tight, Rayna picked up the plate and walked out of the room.         

Dionis wrapped her into a hug as she entered the room next door. "You did well, Rayna," the ex-warrior congratulated.

"They were after Cadie!"

"I heard." Dionis pulled away from the teen and looked down into hard blue eyes. "I don't think he is going to tell us who the main man behind this attack is, but maybe he will give up where they reside so we can go after them."

Rayna nodded and moved to leave the room.

"No, Rayna," Dionis said, stopping the young warrior in her tracks. "You have done enough today. I want Karita to finish this."

"But I can get what we need," Rayna protested.

The Queen's consort smiled. "I know, but Karita's feeling put out that you got him to talk and she didn't."

The young warrior's shoulders slumped, knowing Dionis was lying. "Okay, but can I stay and watch, Your Highness?"

"It's Dionis, and of course you can stay."

* * * * *

Rayna walked through the Palace in search of Arcadia. After the long day she'd had, all she wanted at that moment was to hold the Princess in her arms and forget about the outside world and all its problems. The information the prisoner had given her had shaken her up.

If anything was to happen to Cadie....She shook her head, not prepared to think about it. Nothing will happen to her, not while I'm alive.

Arcadia was seated outside in the gardens on a stone bench. She had drifted outside in need of some fresh air, and one of her favourite places in the Palace was the gardens.

She heard someone approach and smiled when she looked around to see her sweetheart coming towards her. Standing, green eyes went wide in surprise as she was wrapped in strong arms for a fierce hug.

"I love you, Arcadia. So much that my heart aches sometimes," Rayna whispered, her voice tight with emotion.

"I...I love you too, warrior," the Princess replied, slightly surprised at her usually stoic girlfriend. She pulled back to look into emotional blue eyes. "What's going on, love? Has something happened?"

Rayna shook her head. "No, I have just been thinking about you all day."

A sweet smile rose to soft pink lips. "And I have thought of you." She kissed the dark-haired girl softly.

"Shall we take a stroll?" the warrior asked, offering her hand to the blonde. "Unless your day hasn't finished and you have just stepped out for some air?"

"I am finished for the day. Mother and I came in search of you and mama, but were informed you weren't done, so I stepped out here. My parents will probably lock themselves away for the evening, so I am all yours." Arcadia looped her arm around Rayna's and they began to walk.

"I admire their love for each other," Rayna admitted. "You can see how deep it is whenever they glance at each other."

"It is something to strive for, isn't it," the blonde smiled.

They walked in silence for a few paces, enjoying the aromas from the variety of flowers that surrounded them. Not many of them were natural to the island. Most had been brought back specifically to be put in the gardens.

"How was your day?" Rayna asked quietly.

"Interesting. I learned that not everyone backs the Royal family. It seems my mother is always having to watch her back."

Rayna blinked in surprise. "Some are opposed to the Royal family?" she asked in astonishment.

"It appears so," the Princess replied, sadden by the news. Walking off to the right side, Arcadia led Rayna to a small pond, both girls stopping to watch the fish that lived within.

Rayna looked more at the blonde than at the pool or fish. She was troubled, knowing why the island had been attacked and knowing she was about to go off to war. What does this mean for Cadie and me? I will be gone for who knows how long now!

Arcadia snuggled against the warrior's side, happily watching the swimming fish, the night air filled with bird calls and the sounds of the nightlife. The blonde blinked in surprise as she was turned, Rayna stepping in front of her and falling to one knee.

"I have no right to ask, not when I'm about to go off to war. Arcadia, will you marry me?" The warrior pulled out a simple ring she had purchased, a gold band with a single emerald stone.

"Oh!" Green eyes glistened with tears. "Rayna! Yes! Of course, yes!"

Smiling brightly, the warrior slipped the ring onto the Princess' ring finger, then stood, hugging the blonde tightly. "I thought I would take a leaf out of Leslie's book," Rayna said. "I would rather be married to you for a week or two, than not at all."

"I have been waiting for this all my life, sweetheart!" Arcadia kissed the warrior passionately. "Come," the Princess smiled, stepping back from Rayna and taking her hand. "We have to go and tell my mothers."

* * * * *

The two nervous teens sat opposite the Royal couple in the grand living room. Dionis scowled, while Athena looked on in anticipation, caressing her wife's hand to soothe her. Arcadia squeezed Rayna's hand repeatedly in silent support.

"So, girls, what is the problem?" the Queen asked, knowing it couldn't be too bad, as her daughter was grinning like a cat who had just got the cream.

"Rayna proposed," Arcadia announced, beaming at her parents. "And I have accepted."

Athena and Dionis stared at the young couple in surprise, not quite sure what to say having not expected this news.

The scowl returned to Dionis' brow as she looked at Rayna. Has she done this because of what that prisoner said? If they are married, does she think she will be better prepared to protect Cadie? Or is she rushing into this because she is about to go off to war?

"With Rayna about to go off to battle, we wish to be married, even if it is for a few short days," Arcadia said. "We love each other dearly."

Dionis looked at her wife, swallowing nervously. My little girl...getting married?

"It can't be done, Arcadia," Athena said quietly. "A Royal wedding takes months just to plan."

The Princess' smile slipped. "Then I don't want a big Royal wedding. We will have a small ceremony now, then plan a big affair with all the trimmings when Rayna returns," Arcadia replied defiantly.

"Darling, you are the Princess, the only Princess," Dionis said. "As the next Queen, a big deal has to be made. It's the way it is, and you know it."

"I'm not saying a big deal can't be made! I'm just saying until one can be planned, Rayna and I should be married in a quiet affair. She is about to go off for I don't know how long, mama. I wish to be married to her before she leaves."

"No," Athena said, standing up. "And that is final."

"Mother!" Arcadia protested, standing up as well.

"No, Arcadia. When you get married, it will be done properly. I will not allow you to rush into this just because you are afraid of what may happen to Rayna!"

"I agree," Rayna said quietly.

Wide green eyes settled on the warrior. "Rayna!" the blonde uttered, feeling betrayed.

"Your mother is right, Cadie. We want to rush this because our island has just been attacked and I will now be leaving, not for my year away, but for war. Can you sit there and tell me we would be doing this if the island hadn't been attacked?"

The Princess opened her mouth to protest.

"Last night I told you I wouldn't propose before I left just in case," Rayna said. "Now we have been attacked I..." she sighed. I proposed because I might not come back. Because I was scared I would never get another chance.

The Princess sighed as she looked away from the baby blue eyes looking deep into her. "But you proposed. You said you wanted to take a leaf out of cousin Leslie's book."

The warrior smiled. "I did propose, and if we could marry tomorrow, you know I would in a heartbeat. But, your mother is right."

Arcadia looked back into sad blue.

"As the next Queen it has to be a big deal so that the women have something to talk of for the next couple of generations. A wedding they can all attend, a joining they can all celebrate. As Arcadia, the woman I love, I want a big deal made for you. You deserve that." Rayna rubbed her thumb across the backs of Arcadia's fingers. "A special wedding, for a special woman."

Eyes watering in happiness and love, the Princess fell into Rayna's arms and hugged the dark-haired woman tightly. "I love you so much!"

"And I you." Rayna smiled as she pulled back. "Always." She looked across to the Royal couple. "We will wait. You have until I return to plan the best wedding in Royal history."

"This one," Dionis said, "is a keeper." She winked at her daughter, and laughed at the blushing warrior. "Do you wish to join us for our evening meal, Rayna?"


"We are going to be family. You may as well get comfortable in our company now."

The warrior smiled and nodded her acceptance. "I would love to join you. Thank you."

* * * * *

Ready for bed, the Queen paced her chambers as she waited for Dionis to finish getting changed into her nightwear. "Do you think I have done the right thing, my love?" she asked, coming to a stop and looking over at her dark-haired partner.

"About what, Athena?"

"Arcadia and Rayna. Should I have let them marry?"

Sighing, Dionis turned and walked across to the blonde, taking the smaller woman into her arms. "I think you did the right thing, my love." She kissed the top of Athena's head. "Arcadia is our only child, the next in line for the throne. We have to make a big deal of her wedding, it is expected."

Athena sighed sadly. "But...what if Rayna doesn't return? Will Arcadia ever forgive me?"

Dionis hugged her wife tightly. "Oh, my love! You are her mother, of course she will. And me as well."

The Queen looked up into sad blue eyes. "You? What does she have to forgive you for?"

"For sending them off in the first place."

Athena led Dionis by the hand over to their bed. "That is another reason it wasn't wise to let them marry," the Queen said quietly. "If they were wed, but didn't produce an heir...Arcadia would have to...join with another. A Queen cannot rule alone. She needs someone by her side, on her side."

The couple climbed into bed and snuggled close to each other.

"We have a problem, Athena," Dionis admitted quietly. "While I was out looking for someone to go and find us Rayna, I found one lone soldier at the Palace. I don't know how or why, but there was a breakdown in security. It is going to need a complete review and possible overhaul."

Athena pressed a kiss into her wife's neck. "I'm sure you will fix the problem, love."

"There is something else."

The blonde looked up at Dionis expectantly. "What, love? Is it to do with you being so quiet at dinner this evening?"

Dionis nodded. "While talking, the prisoner mentioned the man behind the attack. He...he told the soldiers he had been here before."

Athena frowned. "But surely he could have been lying?"

"That's what Rayna thought. She called him on it and he told her that the man had introduced them all to an descendent of one of the first women to come here."

The Queen gasped. "Who...who could it be? Surely not an descendent of Teresa?"

"I don't think so. By the time she was banished, she was passed her child bearing days," Dionis replied. "I think maybe...Blyth Youngs, or perhaps Ida Reeder. Blyth left the island to find a husband, and Ida left when her twin brother did."

"This is...troublesome," the blonde said quietly, shaken by this news.

"But there is nothing we can do, my love. Except go to war with those who attacked us and show them we won't take it!"

The Queen sighed, settling down into the bed, eyes drooping from her hectic day. "'Tis going to be a busy couple of weeks."

Dionis nodded. "And it all starts tomorrow." Settling down as well, the dark-haired woman kissed her wife one last time. "Goodnight, my love."

"Goodnight, darling. Sweet dreams."

* * * * *

The next day was hectic for the Queen and her consort. Both had a long line of meetings they had to attend in preparation for the upcoming attack they were going to launch. Things needed to be planned, the course of their journey, their battle strategy, main plans and back up plans. Weapons and supplies needed to be gathered, a food supply for the long trip. Gifts for the Britannia village, for their hospitality and help in the coming war.

The Queen had meetings with worried islanders, answering as many questions as she could, trying to soothe their fears and worries. She had to meet with the head of the church, Ulrica Parson, needing to know details on who was marrying and who wished to wed. She had to meet with the farming community. It was almost time for the harvest and with the warriors leaving, they needed more help gathering in their crops and fruits. She also needed to meet with the shaman to find out how many potential births there could be, liking to keep up with the population of the island.

Arcadia slipped away from the hustle and bustle at the Palace, going off in search of the shaman. She wished she had Rayna by her side, seeing how the talk she wanted to have involved her also. But all warriors had been called to practice drills and battle strategies. The teachers wanted to get in all the training they could.

Leaving Leonora, her only guard that day, outside, Arcadia walked into the small stone building they called a temple, knowing she would find the shaman there. It hurt her deeply knowing she couldn't marry her true love, just because she was a Princess and a big Royal wedding was required.

She knew she wasn't as strong as her great, great, grandmother Abrona. If she lost Rayna, she knew she wouldn't be able to carry on. She couldn't marry another and join with them. She was petrified of what lay ahead. The unknown, the waiting for news, the praying her love returned safe, the waiting, it all scared her.

The Princess' footsteps were the only sound inside the temple. She was the only one there it seemed. The temple, unlike the church, wasn't dedicated to any one God. The women on the island were encouraged to believe in whomever they wished. Arcadia was there not only to hopefully see the shaman, but to pray to the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, asking her to keep Rayna safe and return her to the blonde, so they could live the life they wished. She knelt at the alter and bowed her head.

"Does something trouble you, Princess Arcadia?"

The blonde gasped, jumping at the softly spoken voice behind her. Turning, she saw the shaman wearing a sheepish look.

"Sorry. I didn't intend to startle you."

"That's all right, shaman," the blonde replied, smiling. She stood and walked towards the woman. "I came to speak with you, shaman. If I may?"

"Of course, child. Come, let us take a walk."

The two women left the temple together and headed down the unseen path that led from the temple and back into the forest, being carefully watched by Leonora, more wary now than ever.

Dionis had wanted more guards assigned to the Princess, not prepared to take any chances with her daughter's life, but couldn't spare them. The impending war made everyone suddenly very busy.

"What is bothering you, Princess?' the shaman asked kindly.

"I am betrothed to a warrior," the blonde said, a soft smile appearing on her lips as she thought of Rayna.

The shaman blinked in surprise. "Congratulations."

"Thank you, shaman."

"This is...recent?"

"Yes. Yesterday evening in fact."

The older woman offered a smile and nodded. "I see. Congratulations again."

"Thank you."

They walked on, both silent, the Princess unsure of how to continue, while her companion waited patiently for what was bothering the young Royal.

"I am very happy," Arcadia finally spoke up. "Or...I should be." She sighed. "I'm sure you know of the impending war?"

The shaman nodded. She had assumed they would wage war on whoever had been behind the attack.

"Well, this means Rayna will be going off to fight. So when she proposed, we wanted to get married before the warriors leave." Green eyes turned to regard the shaman.

"I take it there is a problem?"

"Yes. My mother, Queen Athena, refused to allow it on the grounds that I am the Princess and therefore need a big, fancy, Royal wedding."

They reached a small wooden hut, the shaman stopping at the closed front door. "This is my home," she explained. "Would you like to come in for a slice of apple pie?"

"That would be lovely," Arcadia accepted.

The shaman opened the front door, then looked to Leonora. "Would you like to check my home for intruders?" Smiling, she stood back and watched Leonora step forward and enter the simple structure, quickly reappearing when she found nothing amiss. "Would you like some apple pie?" the shaman asked, getting an eager nod from the guard.

After seeing to the guard, the shaman took a seat opposite Arcadia, who sat cradling her plate. "You wish to join with your warrior and are wondering if it is allowed."

Arcadia looked up in surprise, shocked that the shaman knew her thoughts.

The older woman smiled knowingly. "It is a question I have been asked many times," she explained.

"I...I have read my ancestor Abrona's diary. I am scared the same fate awaits me. Our lives seem...parallel at the moment and if Rayna....If I lose Rayna...I am not as strong as Abrona." The Princess looked down at her plate blankly. "I couldn't find someone else and join with them because I had to for the sake of the island." Green eyes rose and met understanding brown ones. "We do intend to be married. If we could, we would do it tomorrow."

"I understand, child. It is our customs that are holding you back." The shaman bit into her slice of pie, humming in delight as the flavour hit her taste buds. "The Orchards have produced fine apples this year," she commented. "Did you know," she continued, "in distant lands, it is permitted for men to have many wives?"

Arcadia frowned. "Why would anyone want many wives?"

The shaman laughed, a deep, rich sound, that made the Princess smile. "I have no idea, Princess. You would have to ask them." She sobered. "But back to your situation. You love this warrior and she loves you. You do intend to marry."

Arcadia nodded.

"I will tell you what I tell the rest - do what people in love do."

The Princess blinked in surprise, while the shaman happily continued eating. "We uhm...we hope for an heir," Arcadia blurted out, pale cheeks flaming in embarrassment. "Or rather, I wish for an heir. In case...just in case."

"I see." The shaman hid her smile. "How does your warrior feel about this?"

"She doesn't know I'm here. I...I had questions and thought it best to seek the answers alone."

The shaman nodded. "Talk to her. Discuss everything you have talked about with me, and if she wants what you want, send her to see me."

Arcadia nodded in understanding.

"But," the shaman pointed a finger at the blonde. "Don't force her into anything, otherwise she may resent you once she returns."

* * * * *

Arcadia made her way from the shaman's home to the Banks' farm, followed faithfully by Leonora. She smiled as the property came into view, admiring how simplistic it was. Rayna had told her all about the hard work that had gone into building the original wooden structure, and how long and arduous the restoring work and extension work was.

Arcadia passed through the wooden gate and turned to lock it behind herself and her guard, before making her way along the dirt path that led to the one-storey house that stood proudly on the bank. On her left were green pastures as far as the eye could see. The cattle were in the Banks' furthest field today and not in sight.

The Princess knocked on the simple, but solid wooden door, smiling at the dark-haired woman, who Rayna looked so much like, who opened the door. "Hello, Mrs. Banks," she greeted politely.

"Princess Arcadia! What a surprise!" The woman offered the blonde her hand. "Mariah Banks," she introduced herself, in case the blonde didn't know.

Arcadia shook hands with Mariah. "Is Rayna home by any chance?"

"No, she went along with Nyx, her other mother, to the Shepherd's house, helping to gather the corn. They're due a lunch break though. Would you like to come in and help me prepare some food for them?"

Arcadia smiled warmly. "I would love to help, Mrs. Banks."

"Oh, please, call me Mariah. We are about to be family, I hear." Mariah laughed as the Princess blushed, and moved aside to allow the blonde and her guard to enter the house.

* * * * *

"Is it wrong to want to lick the sweat off of your body?"

Rayna looked up in surprise, eyes wide at the blonde's comment. Standing up to her full height, the warrior smiled cockily. "I am sure it could be arranged." She laughed heartily as the Princess turned an interesting shade of red.

"Come on, you tease" Arcadia said, taking one of Rayna's hands. "It's lunch time. Let's go and eat together under that tree."

Rayna waved to Bedilia who was working nearby, and told her she was off for lunch, before following after the Princess.

Seated beneath a huge old tree, shaded from the afternoon sun, Rayna hungrily got started on the chicken leg Arcadia handed her.

"Aww, look at cousin Leslie and Keera sneaking off," Arcadia said, smiling.

Rayna watched the newly-weds disappear out of sight, arm in arm.

"I heard they're not moving into a home of their own until Keera returns?"

"That's right," the warrior nodded. "Keera wanted Leslie around family, she wants everyone to keep an eye on her, make sure she's okay and all that."

"That's sweet." Arcadia watched the warrior ripping meat from the leg. "How did your training session go this morning?"

"Strange. Everyone is...anxious, scared, keen to get going. Everyone is feeling something different and that was reflected in training."

"And you? How do you feel?"

Rayna looked into curious light green eyes. "All of the above and much more. On the one hand, this is what I have been training for, this is what I have wanted for as long as I can remember. But..." she sighed. "Now I have met you again, and I love you and want a long, happy life with you. It has all changed."

They sat in silence for a few moments, lost in each others eyes.

Clearing her throat, Arcadia smiled. "Eat up," she said, patting a strong thigh. "I know you must have worked hard."

"What did you get up to this morning?" the warrior asked, between bites.

Arcadia chewed her food slowly, wondering how she should approach the subject. "I uhm...I went to see the shaman," she finally said, not elaborating.

"Hoping she could overturn your mother's decision?" Rayna asked, grinning.

Arcadia smiled and reached out to pat her betrothed on the leg. "I wish. No one can overturn mother's final decision."

"So....Are you sick?" Rayna frowned.

"I wanted to know if..." Arcadia trailed off, clearing her suddenly dry throat. "I want us to...lay...together, before you leave, in the hopes that I...conceive."

Rayna choked on the food in her mouth, wide eyes locked on the Princess, who refused to meet her gaze. "What...what did the shaman say?"

"It is only our customs that are holding us back. We want to marry, but because I'm the Princess, my parents want a full Royal wedding! If I wasn't Royal, there would be nothing stopping us."

Rayna opened her mouth to comment, but the blonde was on a roll.

"How many of your warrior friends are marrying this week? A few, I'd guess."

"So the shaman said...we uhm...we could? Lay together, I mean?"

"She asked me to talk to you. I am to tell you that I want us to join and that I hope for a child. If you want what I want, then she wants to see you."

* * * * *

Rayna nervously walked into the temple, wary of the shaman because of her alleged powers.

"The great warrior Rayna Banks," the shaman greeted. "It is a pleasure and an honour meeting you."

Rayna shook the offered hand, a strange warmth washing through her. "You too, shaman."

"I take it you want what the Princess wants, seeing how you have sought me out?"

"I love Cadie. I know she is afraid after reading that stupid diary of her ancestor. If this is what she wants, then I will do it."

The shaman frowned. "But how do you feel about joining? And the possibility of having a child?"

"I would prefer to wait until our wedding night to join," the warrior replied honestly. "It is the proper thing to do. But, not being able to marry while others around us can, and not knowing how long this war will last, I..." Rayna squared her broad shoulders, standing tall and proud. "I would like to lay with the woman who owns my heart and soul. As for having a child, that is something we both want. We are both hoping you bless us with a big family."

The shaman smiled and nodded her head. "That is good to hear, warrior. Come, let us go to my home. I have much to teach you and little time, and there we will have the privacy we need."

At the shaman's home, they were joined by her assistant, Summer. The young girl with flaming red hair had been chosen to walk the life of the shaman, and was now an eager student.

The three women sat around the unlit hearth, Rayna frowning in confusion at the object the shaman had handed her, the other two women watching her, studying her reaction.

"What...what is this?"

"It is called a phallus," the shaman smiled. "Made in the shape of a male organ. You are to wear it when you join with the Princess."

"How will this help?"

"I cannot tell you that, warrior. That is shaman business. Now, are you ready to listen or not?"

Rayna nodded her acceptance and interested blue eyes flicked from the shaman to Summer and back again.

"Do not be rough with Arcadia. You can hurt her, so be gentle in all that you do," the shaman started authoritatively, fully getting the dark-haired teen's attention. "She is not built like you, or used to being treated roughly. She is delicate and feminine and can bruise easily."

Rayna nodded in understanding.

"Be sure to use your fingers, warrior. Get her womanhood ready for you. To do this, stroke her womanhood until you feel she is properly wet or lubricated."

The warrior swallowed hard, thoughts of what treasures lay ahead making her stomach flip-flop.

"Once she is ready and lubricated enough, you settle yourself between her spread legs, lying atop her. Be sure not to put all your weight onto her," the shaman cautioned. "Then when you both feel ready, guide your gift inside her. She may gasp, or cry out, maybe flinch. That is to be expected, so don't panic. In doing so, you might hurt her more." The shaman watched Rayna closely, hoping her words were sinking in. "Do you have any questions?"

"Can you see into the future?"

The shaman blinked, not expecting the question. "No."

"So you don't know if I am to live or die, or if my joining with the Princess will be successful?"

"No, I'm afraid not. Life is a set of complex twists and turns of many paths, Rayna. No one can predict life. For instance," the older woman paused, thinking. "It's a hot day and some of your friends have decided to go to the coast, and some are going to the waterfall. Where would you go?"

Rayna frowned, wondering where this was going. "To the waterfall."

"That decision saves your life. The group who opt to go to the coast get attacked by a family of wild cats."

The teen's eyes widened in realisation. "We all control our own fates, depending on which path we take!"

"Exactly," the shaman smiled, as she stood up.

Rayna stood as well and offered her hand to be shaken. "How many times...uhm..."

"As often as you and the Princess want to. I know you both want to be married, you are doing nothing wrong."

"Uhm...If Cadie...if our joining is successful," Rayna stuttered. "I...I'm afraid of losing her during the birth." Scared blue eyes looked into understanding brown.

"Do not worry, warrior. The Princess is set to reign Belleza."

Rayna frowned. "But you said..."

Laughing and not explaining, the shaman shook the warrior's hand. "Good luck in your journey, Rayna. I wish you all the best, and hope for your safe return."

"Thank you, shaman. Good luck in your journey." Rayna shook Summer's hand, then left, intent on returning home to think over all she had heard and learned, and to formulate a plan.

Summer stood at the open door with the shaman, watching Rayna's tall form disappear into the darkness. "Her path is not simple, is it?"

The shaman smiled sadly. "The Princess and the warrior will have to overcome many hurdles, yes. But then, so does everyone." She stepped back, shutting the door behind her.

"Are they destined to be together?"

"I cannot tell you that. You are getting ahead of your training."

"Sorry. I get a little impatient sometimes," Summer blushed.

"You will learn all my secrets eventually. You just need patience," the shaman laughed.

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